Saturday, May 26, 2007

New Tricks

Here’s a news flash. The world has changed. It’s always changing. What is good for you today, may not apply tomorrow. What was annoying back then makes me smile today. The ants in my laptop that drove me nuts a year ago are now ants in my pants and somehow they don’t bother me at all. They don’t even bite. The world is always changing and will continue to change. There is a reason why we use digital screens instead of stone tables in the modern world.

Many people think that to be a monk you need to wear ochre, orange, or brown robes and live in a temple and not drink or smoke or have sex or pretty much anything other than read and meditate and pray. Monks light incense and they shave their heads and they often wear funny hats and don’t interact with people outside the monastery. They do nutty things like whip themselves for impure thoughts and wear hair shirts to learn humility. Yes, this has been the way for thousands of years. The world has changed.

No longer do the merchants support the monks to ensure redemption. No longer are great monasteries built so that mendicants can pursue a spiritual path free of charge. Today, we must fend for ourselves.

Is this an abandonment of Buddhist principles? Not at all. Some people in Laos cringe and discredit that I was once a monk because I was married (to a nun) at the time. Just recently I told this to some Laos girls and they were so revolted by the thought of a monk marrying a nun, it looked as if they would vomit. There is nothing in the dhamma that says you must follow the dogma of 2000 years ago in order to follow the path. In fact, if you read closely, you will see that it doesn’t matter at all.

In the Bangkok Post yesterday, there was an article about the upcoming observance of the birthday Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The article focused on Danai Chanchaochai, the CEO of a public relations firm in Bangkok. I found the article to be perfectly aligned with my own beliefs of combining spirituality and modern necessity.

“…dhamma is a natural force, and if we are pursuing a working life we can walk the dhamma path and the two will be going in the same direction. I found that everything in our lives – work, leisure, friends, partners, faith – are all inseparable from dhamma.”Danai Chanchaochai

I’m not sure why, but it helps me along the way to know that I am not some lunatic trying to cut corners and that there are others who also believe that you can pursue spirituality (watch out! That’s a trap!) without going back to the dark ages and a perfectly useless dogma for today’s world.

Is this just about Buddhism? Not at all. No matter what faith you find is best to help you along the path, it is important to know that the world is changing and no matter who your messiah may be, they probably wanted you to stay current. The world is changing very fast and the batteries on my laptop are running out and there is an ant in my pants and a Beer Lao dark before me and a big smile on my face because I have no guarantees that I will live beyond this moment.

How about you? Are you happy in this moment? Did you think you had to wear a habit to talk to God? Think again, that was soooo five minutes ago.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dog Beua

There is a prayer, or mantra, in Tibetan Buddhism: Om mani padme hum. It doesn’t translate into English well. The most common translation is ‘The jewel is in the lotus’, which doesn’t get us very far in understanding the meaning. For a very long time, I have worn a ring which has this mantra written on it, in Tibetan script. Most recently, for no specific reason, I have worn the ring on my right ring finger.

In Laos, many people ask me about it. Not only do they wear wedding rings on either the left or right hand, but the script is vaguely similar to Laos script since both Tibet and Laos written language have shared origins in Pali and Sanskrit. Although I enjoy the inquiries, it is not a short conversation.

First, I have to explain that I am ‘poo bow’ – a single man. Naturally, this is met with surprise and playful flirtation and sometimes a rather awkward discussion about someone’s daughter, mother, niece, etc. Then, I have to explain the meaning of Om mani padme hum – the jewel is in the lotus. I’ve translated the English translation into Laos, ‘Kuang mii kaa nái dog beua’. Needless to say, this seems to perplex the person more than the English version.

It’s easy when talking with English-speaking Christians about this. I simply say ‘God exists within all things’. This seems to be a satisfactory translation and a palatable thought. However, when dealing with Laos Buddhists through a very thick accent (to them, I must sound like a 2 year old with a speech impediment), it’s far more challenging. Over the past year, I have had the conversation enough times that I can now get my point across in less than 5 minutes without the use of illustrations (I’ve decided my illustrations all look like low budget, sci-fi erotica, so I’ve abandoned them).

What is most surprising in these discussions is the apparent skepticism once the message has been received. At first, when I point to myself and say ‘Buddha in me’, they nod in agreement. Then I point to them and say ‘Buddha in you’ again, they agree. Yet, when I point to a child or a woman or a dog or a beggar, Doi turns to baw; yes, turns to no. I’m not 100% certain why.

Yes, there is a good amount of archaic thinking about women’s role in Laos society. However, Laos women are remarkably strong and resilient and they are frequently passionate about their spirituality. In my day-to-day observations, I don’t see a lot of people considering women weak or inferior. In terms of the beggar, there is a distinction between rich and poor, but many of the monks come from very poor families – often times it is because of poverty that they will join a monastery in order to get an education. I may be pushing it when I point to a dog, but in the true essence of the mantra, the dog has a chance at nirvana, also. (as a side-note, in
Jack Grace band’s latest news letter he said ‘Dogs are more relaxed about sex than you are’ – I had to laugh!). Back to my point, if I have one.

I really can’t determine which is the truth. Sometimes, I think it is a combination of archaic thinking, class-ism, sexism and maybe a few other ism’s that make Om mani padme hum not acceptable. Other times, I think this idea – the idea of the Buddha-nature being in all of us – is so much a part of Laos culture that intellectualizing it is just pointless, crazy-talk.

Once you have learned the way to enlightenment, you must – or more accurately, you will by nature of enlightenment itself – throw away all that you think. Maybe I think too much. I probably do. Still, I can’t get my head around the reactions, given they so naturally demonstrate the jewel in the lotus in their day to day world.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Resonance is a big part of our existence which few of us consider in our day to day lives. It has a lot more influence on behavior than we realize. Resonance is a two way street. Resonance influences how others react to us and it influence how we react to others.
I know a man who seems to work very hard at being frightening to others. He is very big and very strong and appears ready to fight at any moment. I don’t know this man very well, but I’ve watched is interactions closely. People are afraid of him. Some of his friends say he’s a very nice guy, but I will probably never know because he resonates violence and I don’t like violence.
I know another man who is very kind. He exudes adaptability. His manner is soft and pliable. Even his face seems to say ‘I am kind and generous and caring. Welcome to whatever I have.’. People take advantage of him. They don’t manipulate him; they just do whatever they want. They eat his food, drink his beer, spend his money, and sleep in his bed. They mistake his kindness for weakness. He resonates vulnerability.
How we resonate can, and does, affect how others treat us. It affects who comes near. It affects who stays away. What we exude determines if we are mugged or hugged. And those reactions to our own resonance come back to us and they grow exponentially.
I know a country who has picked a fight with the world. Rear admirals at the front of the fleet braze their might in broad daylight. Representatives feel the cold walls of the corner where they stand; they pick their battles and hope July will show sunnier skies. I know a country which resonates fear and violence, yet its citizens still struggle to live with love and hope and decency and dignity and patriotism. They yearn to keep an even keel.
Keep an even keel in this world. Do not vibrate on the frequency of violence and hatred. Do not tune yourself into a doormat, either. Respect both yourself and others equally. Speak your mind but do not shout it. It is something we all know, yet we all struggle with it from time to time.
You are here. You will resonate, whether you know it or not. Chose wisely the song you sing because the airwaves are far more precious and far more listened to than you can imagine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thinking Cage

We think a lot. Maybe we think too much. We think and we identify. We think and we assess and we categorize and classify. We decide who we are. We decide what is and what is not. We decide how and when and where. We solidify everything, everything in motion and everything at rest, with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we build safe, inescapable cages.
All too often I hear tourists in Laos say, ‘Oh, the Laos people are so friendly.’ They find the people of this country to be so friendly and happy and kind and genuine. People remark on how babies don’t cry and children sit patiently on busses. They remark on how women will sit not waiting, not being patient, not being anything at all; they will just sit, as if they have transcended patience and impatience and all that is in between. People remark on how friendly the Laos people are. This, too, is a trap.
The Laos people are not innocent nor naïve. They are not beyond suffering or hatred or greed or violence. In contrast to the west, they are indeed far more healthy in their mindset, but there is more to the Laos demeanor than the very friendly face the passer by might witness.
It is fine to have illusions, if you like. It is fine to think ‘Life is X’. It is fine to think ‘I am Y’. It is fine to think ‘You are Z’. It is fine to think ‘Laos people are always friendly’. But know that this illusion is a cage that may disintegrate at any moment with no notice. When your marriage fails, friends evaporate, health turns sour, what will you do? When a jaded Laos person shows their racist hatred, how will you exist now that you have been thrown from your cage? Will you have the energy to redefine your world? Will you have the time to restructure while your illusions burn? Will you have the clarity to define satisfactory new illusions to build a new cage? Will you like your new cage?
Throw away the bars. Throw away the bricks. Throw away the chains. Find freedom without your cage. You can not find freedom outside your cage in the same way you can not find freedom within your cage. You must find freedom with no cage at all. Look for your freedom without definitions and categories and assessments. When you have found this, you will be free. When you have thrown away the shackles of dogma, the bars of subjective thought, the oh-so-breathless, oh-so-shapely, oh-so-accepted corset of mental modification, you have found the natural state, the Buddha-mind, the Brahmin which exists within us all.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Go Into Peace

I met a man from Bethlehem. We talked abut religion and politics. Despite very different backgrounds and different faiths our views aligned quite well. We both believe in sharing our thoughts. We both believe in living as fully, as honestly, as piously as we can. We both believe in peaceful coexistence. We both believe in giving ourselves a break. We both believe in giving others a break. He, too, is a seeker.

I have the great good fortune to meet quite a few people who share this mindset. These are people who crave information, they strive towards wisdom. They yoke their minds to a higher plain of existence. More people are becoming keen on this idea. I’m not sure why. Is it the speed of which information is shared in today’s world? Is it the prevalence of crime and war and hatred that sends the sensitive running into the street to preach peaceful coexistence? Is it simply that because this is something on my mind that I attract like-minded people? I don’t have an answer.

But I do have a point.

A number of months ago, and American tried to tell me that one of the beliefs of Islam is to wipe out all non-Muslims. I didn’t believe it at the time, but I have been looking for someone who could definitively debunk what I heard. I told the man from Bethlehem the story. The hurt in his eyes was clear. I asked him to please confirm for me that in no way, shape or form does the Koran say this. He assured me that what I had heard was absolutely wrong. He continued to explain the word “Islam”; “Salam, peace” he said. “Islam, to go into peace.” We had a long discussion about peace and respect for differences.

I don’t think Europe is getting the same type of propaganda the Americans are getting, so this is directed more towards people of the USA gobbling up Fox News like strained peas. Do not for one second think that Muslims are trying to attack you because you are non-Muslim. Yes, there are fanatics out there that are caught up in a frenzy of greed and politics, they may happen to be Muslim. But in the true sense of the word 'Islam', such people have long ago abandoned their faith.

Have confidence that there are seekers of all faiths all around the world, join in conversation with these people, share your ideas, accept the differences and maybe one day we can chip away at the mountain of misinformation which spawns hatred and leaves so many people dead, wounded, orphaned and alone.

In the “real” world, today was a travel day. Yes, at last, I have wrenched myself from Vientiane to head north towards Luang Phrabang. I prefer to break the journey into two legs, stopping in Vang Vieng, halfway between the two cities. It is a beautiful town on the Nam Song (Nam means ‘river’, Song means any of the following: monk, pants, trousers, mix, brew, support, send, transmit). Although Vang Vieng is a somewhat sordid place – a Koh San Road of Laos – the scenery is stunning so I enjoy the stopover. Also, the 9 am bus leaves sometime around 1pm, so the idea of getting to Luang Phrabang after dark does not interest me. Instead, I have plenty of time to write a quick blog entry and enjoy myself.

I am looking forward to a peaceful night on the River of Transmitting a Monk, his Brew and his Trousers.